For me, the ‘regular’ New Year has always been supremely disappointing. Due in part to globally inflated expectation, the night has never lived up to the description my co-workers provide in the annual ‘New Year’s Eve in East Williamsburg!’ email chain. If you’re new to the city, this means you’ll probably end up in some ‘charming’ warehouse off the Graham Avenue stop with 60 people you’ll never see again.
You’ll begin to take stock of the evening at 11pm, 30 minutes after half your friends go down (hard) for the count. Following a midnight ‘champagne toast’ that was supposed to be included in the $150 ticket fee, you’ll wander home, shocked that you fell for it. And then you’ll do it all again next year.
Chinese New Year, however, is different. Strip away the expensive parties and sharp wardrobes, add a few dozen homemade Chinese lion costumes and 400 million confetti launchers, and you’ll be getting close. Though I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy several Chinese New Year celebrations in New York City, I knew I had to go all out this year. And we’re just getting started.
Having spent so much of my time in New York exploring Chinatown, I’ve recently decided that I’m entirely justified in observing Chinese holidays and traditions. With just one day until the neighborhood shuts down to celebrate its New Year, the Untapped Cities family and close friends decided to blow the lid off ChÃƒ º XÃ„ «, the ‘eve of the passing year.’ Like many traditional Chinese families, we gathered for a reunion dinner to bid farewell to the year of the rabbit.
To align with the infectious spirit of the holiday, we descended on Golden Unicorn, an expansive, multi-story dim sum house just east of Bowery. While the unicorn has close to zero significance in Chinese history, the restaurant itself features many of the things I love most about Chinatown – flashy extravagance, enormity, and excess. Draped in showy cloths and accented by brilliantly odd lights, Golden Unicorn will likely to make you feel like a king or queen. In what I trust was a fortunate nod to the upcoming year, our group made camp on the stage just below the restaurant’s most fantastical decoration – a glowing, red eyed dragon.
If you haven’t been to a dim sum restaurant before, the idea is simple: get a group, pick a table, and wait for the Unicorn’s servers to wheel your lunch to you on an endless stream of food carts. Each one features a variety of traditional Chinese dim sum dishes, from dumplings and buns to soups and cakes. They’ll try to sell you everything you could ever imagine, but don’t worry – it’s okay to be a bit liberal with your choices. We managed to take down 26 different items, and paid just $111.00 for the lot (at ten people, that’s a scant $11.00 each).
It’s difficult to recommend anything specific, as most of your time at Golden Unicorn will be a beautiful blur. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself pouring over no less than ten dishes, scrambling to eat as much as you can before the servers come for a second round. For us, the biggest surprises of the day were the turnip cakes, egg custard, and fried squid. If you can help it, don’t miss any of them. Dim sum favorites like steamed pork bun, shrimp shumai and wonton soup won’t disappoint, either.
To minimize waiting and maximize eating, head to the Unicorn on a Sunday morning around 11am. Crowds are sparse, and the food is fresh. If you run out of tea, just take the lid off and slide it to the edge of your table – it’ll be full again before you even pick up your chopsticks. The servers are happy to get you anything you could possibly want, within the limits of a grandiose dim sum restaurant.
If today’s meal is any indication of what’s to come in the year of the dragon, tomorrow morning can’t come soon enough. I’d offer one last, simple piece of parting advice: if you find yourself at Golden Unicorn, try everything. If it looks good, chances are good it is. If it doesn’t, chances are even better that you’ll be surprised. Except for the layered coffee jello. Stay far, far away from it (seriously).